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ESL One Cologne preview: inside group C

Peter Stewart
Contributing Editor
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ESL One Cologne is the second Counter-Strike: Global Offensive major to feature a US$1,000,000 prize pool, whilst also featuring teams from across Europe and the Americas, 9 of which are the top 10 ranked teams in the world. With a grand US$500,000 up for grabs for first place, the ever growing community will be glued to the action to see which team prevails over the rest of the competition.

The format for ESL One Cologne has seen no changes since the last major tournament, MLG Columbus, earlier in the year. During the group stages, teams will play in best-of-one matches, two wins sending you to the playoffs, and two losses sending you home. However, the decider group matches will be played in a best-of-three format.

By Thursday next week, we will know which eight teams, from the four groups, will be heading to the famous LANXESS Arena, that hosted the incredible finals of ESL One Cologne 2015, for the playoffs. The playoffs are to be played with a single elimination, best-of-three bracket.

Leading up to ESL One Cologne, we will look at all of the sixteen competing teams descending into Cologne as they look for success at the ninth ever major tournament for CS:GO. In our penultimate preview, we have Group B.

Team Liquid

A run of highly disappointing international results for Team Liquid, after their very promising third place finish at the MLG Columbus major, has left the once best North American side with a patched up, quickly put together roster for ESL One Cologne until Jacob “Pimp” Winneche officially joins the Liquid roster once his contract with SK Gaming concludes, at the beginning of July.

In Germany, Team Liquid will be going head to head with highly prepared teams in comparison to their own preparation with limited time playing as a full roster in an offline environment. To be exact, this side has only played in the ECS Season 1 Finals, where they finished sixth, and before hand, they only had a couple days of bootcamping. With that being said, this roster features players with undoubted levels of individual skill, and that could really play in their favour against their opponents, alongside the vague strategies that will have to be quickly implemented.

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With only one change in the roster that competed at MLG Columbus, Josh “jdm64” Marzano for Eric “adreN” Hoag, it will be interesting to see whether the American side will be able to pull off another miraculous result, or if the internal team issues that Aleksandar “s1mple” Kostyliev initially caused brew up leading to a new level of turmoil. Regardless of what happens, in my eyes, ESL One Cologne will be a learning curve for the new roster and it should give the team an indication of what they require Winneche to do in the future.

Putting it simply, Liquid really has nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Virtus.pro

Although Virtus.pro are one of the longest lasting CS:GO sides without change their competitive results have not been up to the standard that they once were. Granted, throughout the majority of 2015, the Polish side were having a fairly good season with a number of top finishes, and two titles under their belt: ESL ESEA Dubai Invitational 2015 and CEVO Professional Season 8 Finals. However, during the transition into the 2016 season, the Poles world got flipped upside down, and they went into a slump.

Following their two good results in November, the team took it upon themselves to take a break from competitive play, not practicing as a full roster for weeks at a time, but since that period of time away from the competitive scene, Virtus.pro have not been the same, crashing out of their next two tournaments, DreamHack ZOWIE Leipzig and IEM Katowice, from losses to teams like mousesports, Team Dignitas, and Tempo Storm. It’s also worth mentioning that their online performance has been no better as in the ESL Pro League Season 3, the Polish side finished in last place with a 4-18 record, and at one point, they were sitting at 0-8.

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Despite all of the poor results that VP have faced throughout this year, there have been some moments of greatness. The European side managed to pull a title out of the bag at the first StarLadder i-League Invitational with a best-of-three series win over former world number one side, Natus Vincere. As well as this, recently, the Polish side competed in ELEAGUE’s Group F, and to our surprise, it turned out to be a successful week for the Poles as they finished with a 4-2 record, only losing to Gambit and Team EnVyUs. This allowed them to finish second, behind Team EnVyUs, and they will now get the opportunity to compete in the playoffs of the ELEAGUE tournament.

With the group that Virtus.pro will be playing in at ESL One Cologne not being the hardest, and just performing well at ELEAGUE, this could be the chance that the veterans have been waiting for to show the CS:GO community that they still have some life in them, they still can be an ‘elite’ team, and they should not be taken for granted.

mousesports

Throughout 2016, the predominantly German side have had put together a mixture of average to poor results, including, 9th-12th at MLG Columbus, 5th-8th at DreamHack Masters Malmö, and a comfortable qualification at the ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier with wins over Fluffy Gangsters, Cloud9 and G2 Esports.

Regardless of the poor results that mousesports have had earlier in the year, things could be looking up for the German side with the introduction of Aleksandar “kassad” Trifunović, their new coach. Trifunović was first implemented for a trial run during the ESL One Cologne Main Qualifier and ELEAGUE’s Group E, where their results, and overall performance, have seen major improvements. As it stands, mousesports sit in second place in Group E, behind Natus Vincere, one of the top teams competing at ESL One Cologne. We now begin to wonder whether mousesports has found what they needed in Trifunović?

Although mousesports have never been passed the group stages at a major tournament, they have, on a number of occasions, shown us that they have the ability to compete with a number of the teams that feature in the top 10 of the world rankings. Whether they can do that again, I do not know, but what I can tell you is that, with this group and their new coach, there is a high chance that we could see them in the playoffs, and we are just days away from finding out.

Team EnVyUs

Team EnVyUs are another organisation in the CS:GO space that first made a name for themselves in Call of Duty, but since their initial investment in Counter-Strike, picking up ex-LDLC side after their DreamHack Winter 2014 win, they have seen a great level of success. At the beginning of 2015, the French side were on fire, taking back-to-back championships home: Gfinity 2015 Spring Masters I and SLTV StarSeries XII Finals.

With that being said, the EnVy lineup slowly began to fade away after a number of poor results at CCS Kick-off Season Finals, Gfinity 2015 Spring Masters 2 and ESL Pro League Season 1 Finals. This change in performance sparked the French shuffle of Summer 2015 where Richard “shox” Papillon and Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux would transfer over to Titan for Kenny “KennyS” Schrub and Dan “apEX” Madesclaire. The changed lineup would go onto win a major tournament, DreamHack Cluj-Napoca, but then the downward spiral of success would begin.

Just less than a month after their major win, Team EnVyUs were one of the eight teams to compete at FACEIT League 2015 Stage 3 Finals at DreamHack Winter, and after losing their against Ninjas in Pyjamas and Luminosity, they finished in last place with only one map won for the entire tournament. This trend continued throughout the beginning of 2016 as they placed 11th-12th at IEM Katowice, causing the replacement of Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey with Timothée “DEVIL” Démolon, a player that was yet to prove his worth on the world stage. Even after the change, the French lineup finished 13th-16th at MLG Columbus, the last major.

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Although these results have transpired throughout the majority of this year, the French side did find themselves taking first place at Game Show Global eSports Cup 2016 Finals, which did include some fierce competition, such as, G2 Esports, Astralis and Team Dignitas.

On a more positive note, recently, Team EnVyUs competed in the final week of Turner’s ELEAGUE group stages, playing in Group F alongside Virtus.pro, Gambit and compLexity.

During their time in Atlanta, Georgia, the French side began to show us some of the gameplay that they displayed during their ‘era’ back in 2015, and with that, they only lost once to Polish side, VP, which can only pay dividends going into ESL One Cologne.

As I just mentioned, coming off a positive result in their ELEAGUE campaign, it’s highly expected that Envy will be able to ride that momentum so they can guarantee themselves a spot at the LANXESS Arena in Cologne for the playoffs of the major tournament that is fast approaching. However, if they do not make it out of the groups for a second major tournament in a row, maybe it will be time to consider another roster change?

We’re just a few days away!

If you haven’t been able to grab yourself a ticket for ESL One Cologne, you can tune into the livestream, but it that’s not possible, be sure to follow ESL CS on Twitter and Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any updates.